21 September 2012

Of grandmothers, old and young


I called it ‘Pacifier’.  That’s the title of the second poem I wrote for my younger daughter.  The first, I’ve lost, but remember one line: ‘unknown and unnamed, just like me’.  It was written a few days after she was born.  Since then many have said that she looks like me and indeed like my mother, her grandmother.  I will never know her fully and no one will figure me out either, so that part of the description is correct.  It was an easy claim.  

 She is named now, but names are but tags and say nothing about heart and mind, even though we pour over names and their meanings once the astrologer recommends the better akshara or the syllables with which the name should be coined. 

She pacifies, this is true.  It was written when she was 6 or 7 and there had been enough time and togetherness to make such claims.  Here’s the rest of the poem:

And she looks deep into my eyes
now and then.
Asks: are you crying? 
Says: wait a little, don’t go.
She runs into her room
brings out her most prized possession,
‘The Good King Sivi’.
Lady Birds her love
and waves her heart as handkerchief
in the manner of magician and lover
wipes tear and instructs:
‘Read this and you will remember me’.
She’s such a grandmother,
this daughter of mine,
and such a child too.

I read it to her then and she didn’t understand. Someday she will, I am sure.  I read it and she was not amused by the word ‘grandmother’.  From then onwards, whenever I wrote poetry about her or mentioned her in an article, she would say ‘Oh no! Not again!  You wrote “grandmother” didn’t you?’  She will smile, I am sure, years from now.  Indeed, she might be smiling under a feigned frown even now.  She gets her way always by subtle and deliberate changes in facial expression.  Her sister, aloof by nature, has only to ask, sorry ‘command’, and I melt.  This one though, is grandmother.

I was stating fact and not being nasty.  I encountered the word ‘grandmother’ a little while ago and remembered this poem.  Got me thinking about my grandmothers. 

My father’s mother, Archchiamma to us, lived in Kandana.  She was already a widow when I was born.  She loved to pamper but wasn’t a cuddler.  We didn’t visit Kandana as often as we visited Kurunegala, where my mother was from, so there was a certain distance.  She didn’t have favorites or, if she did, she hid it well.  She didn’t take any ‘nonsense’ when it came to food and that scared me a little.  She pampered though.  So did my other grandmother, who we called Aththamma.

Aththamma was a darling.  She never judged.  Or maybe it was that she never judged me.  She loved us all and although she tried to be egalitarian about it, would slip now and then; I was her favorite.  It’s been more than 4 years and over four decades since she carried me, but I still feel the tenderness of her love.  What she smelled like, in particular, including her old-age smell.   

She was lucid even when she was 90.  She recognized us all, right to the end.  She would repeat herself though and we indulged her.  I teased her about a childhood sweetheart and she chided me using the same words, tone and gestures she had used a few minute s before when I teased her. 
‘Mage puthata thunuruwan saranai’ (May you be blessed by the Noble Tripe Gem, my son) she always said when I took her leave, touching her feet and worshipping her.  

 I called her ‘Amma’ (Mother) when I was an infant because everyone in the household called her that (I called my own mother ‘Akka’ or ‘older sister’ because she was the eldest and everyone called her ‘Akka’).

My little girl blurts out now and then ‘I miss Aththammi’ (that’s my mother).  She lights an extra clay lamp at the temple of full moon poya days and asks me ‘Do you know for whom?’  She knows that I know, but still asks.  She knows I miss my mother.  And I think that’s her way of saying ‘don’t be sad’ or ‘I know’.  She is such a grandmother, this little child of mine.

[No, I will not tell her about this article, but she will find it someday and smile].


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